Honor Blackman 22nd August 1925 – 6th April 2020

Gorgeous Honor Blackman has died at the grand old age of 94. The best Bond girl of them all, she had an imposing presence, a wonderfully sonorous voice and innate elegance. Working in British films from the late Forties she made many TV movies and series and a handful of B movies before she got a terrific role in A Night to Remember. She really came into her own in the Sixties in Goldfinger but earned a place in our hearts by bringing her intelligence to Patrick Macnee’s worthy sidekick on primetime TV in The Avengers – so she was not just Pussy Galore but also leather-clad Cathy Gale, incarnating two of the most iconic roles of the era. She appeared in Shalako, The Virgin and the Gypsy and in Bridget Jones’ Diary. In more recent times she essayed other TV parts – Professor Lasky in the beloved Doctor Who and Laura West in the long-running The Upper Hand. Rest in peace, Mrs Gale. We salute you.

 

Max von Sydow 10th April 1929 – 8th March 2020

That elegant actor, Max von Sydow, has died at the age of 90. An exponent of Swedish cinema, he lent his grave hauteur and expressivity to at least one excellent film in every decade that he worked, bringing a kind of innate decency and enigma to the work of many international film directors. His rise to global prominence came courtesy of his collaboration with Ingmar Bergman, firstly with The Seventh Seal, a defiantly eccentric work in the oeuvre of an otherwise modern filmmaker, with whom he made several masterpieces including the man haunted by nuclear war in Winter Light and  he was part of Bergman’s theatre repertory company too. You could say the spectre of Death haunted von Sydow but his natural abilities were seen in other kinds of work and when he made his English-language debut it was playing Jesus, in The Greatest Story Ever Told. That religiosity, interspersed with more work with Bergman and Jan Troell and some spy thrillers, culminated in his being cast as Father Merrin in The Exorcist, making him a staple exemplar of goodness in the anglophone horror genre. He made a chillingly effective super-rational hitman in paranoid thriller Three Days of the Condor opposite Robert Redford. The intellectual aspect of his performance made him ideal in Steppenwolf, a role that probably inspired Woody Allen to cast him as the temperamental artist Frederick in Hannah and Her Sisters, in which he gets a very funny line about the Holocaust. He was good at playing bad Germans – in The Quiller Memorandum and Shutter Island. And he would play a problematic Nazi-sympathising author Hamsun in the eponymous biography. For many of us we first encountered him as children, watching him as pitiless Emperor Ming in the exhilarating sci fi parody Flash Gordon and in the same spirit he gave us his Blofeld in Never Say Never Again. Most recently he appeared as Lor San Tekka in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the Three-Eyed Raven in Game of Thrones, with his last release Thomas Vinterberg’s Kursk disaster film, The Command. But it’s perhaps in Bille August’s Pelle the Conqueror that he gave his most endearing performance as the illiterate farmer. With 163 screen credits, there’s plenty to choose from. He was acting royalty. Rest in peace.

Terry Jones 1st February 1942 – 21st January 2020

The death has taken place of one of the greatest screen comics and writers we have been blessed to enjoy. Terry Jones started writing with Michael Palin after they graduated from Cambridge and they made their names on British TV as joke writers for people like John Bird and David Frost before collaborating with John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam to create the landmark series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, where Jones’ penchant for absurdity, satire and surrealism blended with his historical interests and a slight case of anarchy. Jones came into his own as a director of their frequently controversial films and directed other material as well as continuing a separate writing career as a mediaevalist, poet and children’s author. For most of us, though, he will be remembered as the immortal Mandy Cohen, mother of a very naughty boy. Goodnight Terry, you only went and revolutionised comedy while you were with us. It’s probably time for a rest.

Buck Henry 9th December 1930 – 8th January 2020

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The death has taken place of Buck Henry (Zuckerman), chiefly regarded as one of the best satirical screenwriters of the last 60 years, gifted with an eye for a good gag and a smart line. After an upper class education at Choate, Dartmouth and Harvard’s military academy, he became an actor and soon migrated to TV to write on Steve Allen and Garry Moore’s shows. He co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks and then forged a big screen career with The Graduate. One of only three director-collaborating teams to be nominated for an Academy Award (with Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait) his contribution to the culture is both prolific and immense. Rest in peace.

Anna Karina 22nd September 1940 – 14th December 2019

The beguiling French-Danish icon of the nouvelle vague has died at the age of 79.  So much more than Godard’s muse, she starred in several genres and literary adaptations for many directors, was a decent singer, novelist and directed films herself. She had a voice, grace and infinite talent. Adieu, Madame.

Danny Aiello 20th June 1933 – 12th December 2019

I was forty when I did my first movie. You’ll know Danny Aiello:  from his deadly line in The Godfather Part II: Michael Corleone says Hello!  to playing Madonna’s dad in the music video Papa Don’t Preach, you know him. From his dazzling start in Bang the Drum Slowly to his police chief namesake in Once Upon a Time in America to Mia Farrow’s husband in The Purple Rose of Cairo or Sal the pizzeria owner in Do The Right Thing, the titular character Ruby, or formerly successful film director Harry Stone in The Pickle, any time you see him you know this is going to be one hell of a good movie. What a legacy he leaves.  The hapless Romeo Johnny Cammereri in Moonstruck, Chester Grant in The Closer, Tommy Five-Tone in Hudson Hawk, Aiello seems as much at home in crazed comedy as serious drama. Sometimes he was a leading man in TV series, lots of times he supported short filmmakers and it’s ironic that his last completed work is Vinnie Favale and Patrick Kendall’s fantasy Hereafter Musical. He liked to sing and recorded and toured for the past two decades. He was probably Vincent Gardenia’s lucky charm because each time they appeared together Gardenia netted an Academy Award nomination. He wasn’t just good, he made everyone around him better. He took to acting late and had spent years working as a Greyhound Bus baggage handler and union rep. He got his start after he landed the role of emcee at The Improvisation comedy club where he’d been working nights as a bouncer. He was a great supporter of charities, donating to everything from AIDS to disabled children. He was a hell of an actor and lit up every role he took on, embodying the term class act. The auteurs certainly knew it but now he is gone. We have the films. Rest in peace.